Paddy Chayefsky EDOUARD L. de LAUROT - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[By] contrast with the vapidity of routine cinematic fare, Marty appears—at least at a casual glance—as a refreshingly unusual film….

Marty has all the qualities of an unpretentiously filmed fait divers, an anecdote involving ordinary people and presented with an effort to achieve veracity in characters, backgrounds and moods. And it could be accepted as such and dismissed with a conventional review were it not for the fact that it obviously attempts to be something of far greater depth and that both critics and public seem to have looked at it through a magnifying glass which lent it dimensions it does not even approximate….

At the root of the misunderstanding is the claim that Marty is a realistic film. Seen in proper perspective, it is at best a "slice of life", a fairly adequate exercise in imitating the premises and practices of those among the Italian "neo-realists" whose art has been steadily on the decline towards naturalism. Inspired by the oversimplified tenets of this school, the author and director of Marty have inevitably lapsed into the errors inherent in its approach. If we now examine Marty more closely, we shall see that it betrays reality rather than reveals it. There are three basic abberations—symptomatic of the naturalistic outlook—in the authors' vision of man and society:

—Instead of interpreting objects, people and situations so as to bring out their essence, the film merely reflects their superficial aspects.

—It seeks to represent the individual and society statically, "as they are", instead of capturing them in transition, in the process of becoming.

—It selects particular, idiosyncratic rather than typical characters and events, sacrificing realism to "story interest".

(p. 7)

[On] the plane of characterization the consistent under-interpreting leads to a diminution of clarity. Out of deference to the premise that mere showing is sufficient to unveil, Chayevsky and [director Delbert Mann] have refrained from any implicit comment. Only the more advanced, more conscious members of the audience will perceive the anomaly in the fact that the schoolteacher's habitual Saturday-night occupation is watching Jackie Gleason on television; only they will realize that in the afternoon bull-session among Marty's pals, not merely their ennui but the work of Mickey Spillane is being stigmatized and ridiculed. But the Angies of America will at best have a laugh and may wonder which book of Spillane's was quoted in the film. The much-praised ballroom scene contains some apt reportorial touches. But it appears pale when seen through the lucid compactness of analogous scenes in Studs Lonigan. It is undeniable that Chayevsky and Mann often show a remarkable capacity for noticing detail, as in the gum-chewing, the bovine faces, the antiphonal "I dunno". But a sense of observation can no more be equated with the power to reveal than an impression can be with a judgment.

In the static treatment of character is manifest the...

(The entire section is 1341 words.)